When I was younger, I worked part-time in a department store and spent every festive season for five years in the cosmetics section. People would rush in on Christmas Eve and frantically wave cash at me while pointing to the nearest gift-wrapped perfume set.
This is not a judgment on those customers but an example of how the cultural traditions of Christmas have evolved into stress-induced consumer madness.
We are taught that buying things makes us and others happy. Just because it is ‘normal’ doesn’t make it right. From the 5,000 advertising messages per day to the adoration of celebrities and their glamorous lifestyles, we are programmed with the belief that more is better.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Over the years I have tried different ways of removing myself from the festive season gift-buying and over-consumption frenzy. Some have worked better than others. Here are some of my tried and true favorites. Why not attempt one this year? You may end up with a new family tradition that everyone looks forward to that involves less stuff and more love.
Here are three stress-free ways to reduce waste at Christmas…
1) Gifts for Kids
Now the kids are older and Santa is no longer part of our lives, we have taken the opportunity to have an open and honest talk with the kids about expectations around Christmas gifts. You may be able to do this when Santa is still part of your family traditions but, honestly, I just hadn’t thought of doing it until now.
We still encourage the kids to write a big, long list of their heart’s desires as they loved doing that in the past and whether the list is sent to Santa or not doesn’t seem to diminish the joy. It is normal to ‘want it all’. I love that they think of outrageous things like a baby tiger and a jet pack.
However, they are gently reminded to only expect a few gifts each under the tree on Christmas morning. I honestly don’t know if this will stop them being disappointed at the lack of gift opening opportunities on Christmas Day. But I really don’t think I could source a baby tiger or a jet pack even if I wanted to!
You can be more subtle about reducing the amount of stuff given to kids. For example, we have never had the family tradition of Christmas stockings. Thus I have avoided the combination of superfluous plastic toys and unneeded sweet treats I am sure I would have filled them up with.
We encourage family members to give to the kids in a way that suits them. One family member has opted to make a donation to a favorite charity on my kids behalf. Another gives them a $10 voucher each to do their own shopping in the sales after Christmas – something they are delighted with. And another has bought long-lasting functional gifts rather than toys in the past few years – good quality snorkel sets, body boards and even kid-friendly headlamps.
2) Gifts for Others
For over ten years now, the grownups in the family have received their Christmas gifts through the tradition of ‘Evil Secret Santa’. Each adult is to contribute one wrapped gift. Names of everyone participating are put into a hat. The first name is called and they pick and unwrap a gift. That is their Christmas present… unless it is stolen by the next named called or any person after that.
If your gift is stolen you are allowed to steal someone else’s gift but not take back the present that was just stolen. Or you can choose from the remaining wrapped gifts, thus ending a round of theft, which can go on for some time. Some gifts are in demand and stolen numerous times. Others never get a look in. The game ends when the last gift is unwrapped and whatever gift you have at the time is the gift you end up with. In real life there are a lot of swaps that happen after the game.
What sort of gifts you ask? Anything goes in our family. Usually they are between $20 and $50 in value and can be consumables like wine and hampers, technology gifts like selfie sticks and blue-tooth speakers or something for the family like a board game. You can buy new, quality second-hand and even make it yourself.
A couple of years ago, just after I wrote Clutter-Free Forever, I broached the idea of removing ‘Evil Secret Santa’ from our Christmas traditions. I was heavily vetoed. Most of the grownups in my family said it was the only gift they got at Christmas and pointed out how much fun it was. Now I’m glad my minimalist idea was shot down – I am looking forward to stealing a Christmas present again this year!
There are other stress-free ways to reduce waste at Christmas. You don’t have to buy gifts at all. For example, Mr. S and I stopped giving gifts to each other years ago and we have almost completely stopped exchanging festive gifts with friends. You can give experiences instead of actual things. Each Christmas for the past few years I have given my nieces and nephews movie vouchers. Or you can opt for homemade gifts. I am fortunate to have a family member who makes beautiful soaps so that is what the kids’ teachers received as their festive end-of-year thank you.
3) Food and Entertainment
There are no rules around food on Christmas Day in my family. We have an extremely low-key pot-luck brunch. In New Zealand we call this ‘bring a plate’. Everyone brings something that they want to eat. This can often mean there is not a lot in the way of traditional Christmas cuisine but there is a LOT of food. Pot-luck brunch has the added bonus of catering to all dietary preferences and food intolerances – everyone brings along their favorite dish or two so at least there is something they like to eat.
Other stress-free ways to reduce waste at Christmas include not buying Christmas crackers. Although the kids say they like them no one really misses them when we don’t have them especially those terrible, groan-inducing jokes.
We also never got into the tradition of having a photo with Santa. The kids got one each as babies and then I simply made the decision not to do it again. The photos get more excruciatingly expensive every year – and really, who needs that photo keyring option?
In New Zealand there is not a huge tradition of decorating the outside of your home with lights and giant Christmas ornaments. I enjoy going to look at the few houses and streets that do embrace this tradition but I am happy not to spend money on it myself.
I have even managed to avoid buying advent calendars for the kids this year. Advent calendars – terrible chocolates packaged in landfill – are the perfect representation of festive waste that we can all do without. And I have mindlessly bought them year after year! But by the time I thought about buying them this year the stores had sold out. From now on, I intend to keep advent calendars out of the shopping cart. We can make our own advent calendar or simply cross days off the actual calendar, which is what my six-year old has resorted to doing this year.
Less Stuff, More Love
There are numerous stress-free ways to reduce waste at Christmas, whether it be around gifts for kids, gifts for others or food and entertainment.
There is no right way to ‘do Christmas’. Reinvent it how you want it to be. You may love Christmas stockings, stringing up lights or sitting on Santa’s lap. You do you.
Take what you like from the suggestions above or develop your own festive traditions.
For me, less purchases mean more opportunity to give. In the past I have bought presents for a different family each year through an arrangement run by the Salvation Army. This year I found out about a local charity that collects new children’s books and distributes them out to Kiwi kids for Christmas. I dropped off a few copies of my picture book, Maxy-Moo Flies to the Moon to them last weekend.
Overall, having a softer environmental impact, giving more, setting healthy boundaries around gifts and not being a kitchen slave have helped me have a more fun and relaxed festive season.
Less stuff, more love – who is not on board with that?
If you would like to not only declutter but find even more ways to embrace minimalism and reduce your consumption, check out Clutter-Free Forever
Kiwi Christmas Books gives out new children’s books to Kiwi kids for Christmas thanks to generous donations of money and books
The Great Eco Journey has a fantastic eco-friendly Christmas gift guide